By: Craig Wright
With SFU’s prowess as Canada’s NCAA team well-documented, it can be easy to forget that a number of different university sports teams call Burnaby mountain home. One such group of athletes, SFU rugby, is looking to make their mark on a regional level in 2017.
A sport that has seen Canada feature on the world stage, rugby still faces a fight for attention on domestic soil, battling with football, soccer, and hockey amongst others for column inches and public attention. So how did Talor Mykle-Winkler, a third-year prop forward for the SFU women’s team, come to find herself involved in the sport?
“I started in high school because my dad played rugby,” said Mykle-Winkler.
“It’s a lot of fun. You don’t really need much equipment, and it’s a sport pretty much anyone can play, regardless of body size or how fast you can run — there’s a position for everyone.”
Like Mykle-Winkler, men’s team flanker Soroush Jafary found himself picking up an oval ball in high school.
“I fell in love with the sport,” he said. “Rugby is a tough sport; it’s all about intensity and determination. What attracts me the most about rugby is that it challenges me not just physically, but mentally.”
While not currently under the umbrella of the NCAA, the carrot of joining the university’s elite sporting program is a tantalizing one for SFU rugby. Jafary believes that making the step up could be the key to taking the Clan to the next level.
“Playing a varsity sport provides an athlete with a higher level of competition. There are SFU students who are currently playing for other rugby clubs in the Lower Mainland. If we can provide them with the opportunity to choose their classes earlier than other students, or offer them athletic scholarships, they will be more interested to play for their own school.”
For Mykle-Winkler, the lack of recognition for the SFU rugby program, both in and outside of the university community, is one which clearly irks the third-year. However, she prefers to instead focus on the benefits of being a part of the club.
“I feel like we’re in a league that has good competition, so I feel good with where we’re at,” she said.
“Knowing it’s a sport that anyone can play, it does kind of suck when people don’t know there’s a team up here. I’ve talked to people who were like, ‘Oh, SFU has a rugby team? I didn’t know that.’ So it’d be nice to be more well-known, but at the same time there’s a lot of support both from within the club and from the alumni of the club.”
As touched on by Mykle-Winkler, the club’s alumni are a major part of the continued success of the program. It’s a connection that both she and Jafary acknowledge as a key part of the club’s identity.
“It’s really nice to have that alumni connection,” said Mykle Winkler. “It’s a really tight-knit community and club.”
Jafary agreed, stating, “The alumni are this club’s most loyal supporters. They are great role models for current students and we continue to benefit from their skills and experience.”
On the pitch, it’s been a successful start to the 2017 campaign for the men’s team, as they sit second in BC Rugby Division III after three wins and a draw from their opening four matches. It’s a fact made all the more remarkable after a disrupted preparation for the season due to the heavy snowfall experienced in the area in January and February.
However, the team adapted, as Jafary noted, “We have been unlucky with the weather. We spent a lot of time in the gym to maintain our fitness level when the outdoor fields were not available,” said the fourth-year.
For the women’s side, the format of the league is slightly different, as Mykle-Winkler explained,
“Our league is broken into semester[s] — the first half of the league is in first semester, and the second is in the spring. There’s been some delays and cancellations because of the snow, but we’re underway again now.”
The weather was the least of the concerns for the women’s team, however, as they had to contend with the loss of their new team kit.
“Over the summer, we’d just got new jerseys from donations by sponsors and alumni. A car got broken into and they all got stolen,” said Mykle-Winkler. “Thankfully we managed to replace them — we had a fundraiser and got the money we needed.”
So what are the aims for the remainder of the season for the club? For Mykle-Winkler, it’s a fairly simple goal.
“Last year we dropped down a division [from the Premier Division to Division I], so this year we don’t really want to be losing — we want to be competing amongst the high-level Division I teams.”
It’s a similar story for Jafary, who added, “I think we are all aiming to win the league this year. However, my main goal as a senior student is to lead the younger players to work harder on the field and manage their time better off the field.”
With a strong club behind them and a group of enthusiastic and committed players, it certainly seems like both Mykle-Winkler and Jafary are in a pretty good position to achieve their respective goals in 2017. One thing is for certain though — if they don’t, it won’t be for a lack of trying.
What was the last song you listened to?
Mykle-Winkler: “Umm [. . .] It was ‘Back in My Arms Tonight’ by Nathan Bonnes”
Jafary: “J.Cole’s ‘Change’”